Applying the Squeeze on All Sides

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Tobi Soniyi writes that the the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu is under enormous pressure to switch political loyalty from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress

The art of defection has become so commonplace and the political divides so fluid in this Fourth Republic. The incidence is so much that to most Nigerians, it is a matter of when, not if a politician would defect, depending on where his/her interest is best served at a given time. While some defect for greener political pastures, others, especially who have cases to answer at the anti-graft agencies, are believed to declare allegiance to the ruling party to enjoy ‘federal protection’. There is the general impression that if one crosses over to a ruling party at the centre.

However, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, appears to be one man bent on proving naysayers wrong. Although he has remained with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since its formation in 1998, serving through the years as Chief of Staff to former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani and Secretary to the Government of Enugu State under the same administration before moving over to Abuja as Senator representing Enugu West since 2003 and Deputy Senate President since 2007, many believe it was only a matter of time before he changed political party loyalty.

Following PDP’s loss of the presidency and majority enjoyed in the National Assembly since 1999, there was widespread rumours that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and several of its Senate President hopefuls had approached Ekweremadu with a deal to become a Deputy to an APC Senate President after which he would defect. However, he was said to have stubbornly turned down the offer, insisting that PDP’s voting pattern would be determined by the party leadership and entire members elected into the National Assembly. Many thought it was the end of the road for him as the Number Two Man in the Senate.

Depending on political leanings, it was, with both rude shock and excitement, that the nation received the news of the re-election of the lawyer-turned politician, who also holds a PhD in Law and doubles as Professor of E-Governance and Strategic Governance Studies at the Southern University, Louisiana, USA.

Ekweremadu and PDP’s ingenious political feat may have been denounced by the APC, with the now Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige lamenting that it was a lifeline for the PDP in the South East that must be undone by any means possible, many saw it as a self-inflicted woe by the ruling party. The conclusion from many informed quarters is that the APC had always suffered from a false sense of entitlement over leadership positions in the National Assembly.

Analysts say that the APC “behaved as if it was just its Senators that are to elect the Senate President and the Deputy. It mismanaged its slim majority at inauguration of the 8th National Assembly poorly and unjustly. It backfired”.

“PDP came with 49 Senators. APC had 59 (Ahmed Zannah, Borno Central, died before the inauguration). The Senate Unity Forum (33 APC Senators-elect) endorsed Senator Ahmed Lawan, while 26 Likeminds were for Saraki. So, even if some APC Senators didn’t embark on the wild goose chase to the International Conference Centre, Saraki and Ekweremadu were home and dry with the support of 25 APC Senators-elect and 49 PDP Senators-elect as opposed to Lawan who had just the backing of 32 APC Senators-elect. The PDP cashed in on the division in the APC to become the kingmakers. It is pragmatic politics”.

But whereas Ekweremadu’s emergence was painful to the ruling party, what might have been more painful to it is what many see as the Senator’s refusal to defect to its fold. Though several notable South East politicians have since defected to the APC, no doubt, Ekweremadu is seen as the beautiful bride due to his wide appeal in the South-east, which could help give the APC a meaningful in-road into the region. He is also seen as a smart politician, a master of the game and strategist.

On one occasion in 2017, the spokesperson of the Senate Unity Forum, Senator Kabir Marafa, insisted: “If there is anything now, the remaining problem is about what we do with our Deputy Senate President — my leader and my boss. Let me use the opportunity to call on my leader and my boss, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to please defect to the APC and that will seal the whole thing and there will never be a problem.”

Ekweremadu’s Special Assistant on Political Affairs, Mr. Okey Ozoani, has since dismissed rumours of Ekweremadu’s defection as “a fantasy of those peddling it”, insisting that “Ekweremadu is going nowhere as he is more concerned about fixing the country than saving his job.”

Also, paying tributes to Ekweremadu on his 56th birthday at a plenary last May, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, even wooed Ekweremadu with a possible 2023 presidential ticket.

“I will use this opportunity to urge Senator Ike Ekweremadu to see through the mist; this woolly environment and take the right decision. You are an asset. I am inviting you to consider joining the numerous leaders and elders of the South-east, who understood that Nigeria needs the commitment of people like you. Nigeria needs stability and I want to say clearly that you are going to fit in perfectly well. 2023 is here (for you) for the taking,” Lawan said.

However, Ekweremadu has not only been wooed with carrots, but has faced serious battles, which many interpret as political bricks, thrown at him. The Senator alleged an attempt on his life in Abuja on November 17, 2015, which he said the security agencies have refused to investigate despite formal reports to them.
He was arraigned on June 27, 2016 alongside the Senate President on allegations of forgery of Senate Standing Rule. But in a well-publicised letter to the international community Ekweremadu alleged political witch-hunt, drawing attention to the fact that no where in the police report and Proof of Evidence filed with the court was his name or that of the Senate President mentioned. The federal government later withdrew the charges.

Early in May 2017, Ekweremadu alerted the Senate in plenary on what he described as reliable intelligence on an alleged plan by some elements within the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to frame him up by planting and finding large sums of foreign currencies in a building associated with him. But the EFCC denied the allegation.

Curiously, however, policemen drawn from the Inspector-General of Police’s special squad raided the Senator’s official guest house at Maitama District, Abuja, on May 26. The raid was initially denied by the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Jimoh Moshood, the police eventually admitted carrying out the operation, but explained that they acted on a false tip-off on stockpiling of arms by Ekweremadu. Whereas the police charged to court two men it identified as false whistle-blowers, Ekweremadu’s supporters described it as a face-saving measure after a failed attempt to frame-up the Senator.

In March this year, the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, headed by Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, filed a Motion Ex-parte for assets forfeiture. However, Ekweremadu decried the move as a smear campaign and political persecution.

“What we have found over the last few weeks is that a bunch of APC lawyers have assembled themselves and called themselves a panel. As a lawyer, common sense tells you that you cannot be a judge in your own case. There is no justice for the cockroach in the court of fowls,” he contended.
Last April, armed hoodlums invaded the Senate in session and carted away the mace of the Senate and vanished into the thin air while Ekweremadu presided.

Siege were also laid to Ekweremadu and Saraki’s residences by hordes of EFCC operatives and policemen on the 24th of July, while National Assembly was besieged by hooded operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) on the 7th of August in what many analysts see as failed coups against the Senate leadership. Ekweremadu has since gone to the EFCC to state his own side of the allegations against him.

Recently, the APC directed the EFCC to immediately conclude investigations on Ekweremadu and other PDP leaders before the 2019 elections with a view to charging them to court, a directed the PDP has described as a confirmation that the EFCC had become APC’s attack dog and chief political recruiter.

OFF THE CUFF:
1. MY HANDS ARE CLEAN: If the EFCC wants me to come and answer that, I am prepared to answer any call from anybody as a responsible citizen. Even at that, I will continue to advocate justice, rule of law, and equity
Ekweremadu insisting he had done nothing wrong to warrant the continued harassment by the security agencies and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
2. WE NEED STATE POLICE: The internal security of Nigeria depends on one man or woman, who sits in Abuja as the Inspector-General of Police. The governor of a state, though designated as the chief security officer of the state by the constitution, cannot direct the Police Commissioner of his state on security matters
Ekweremadu Speaking on his preparedness to sponsor a bill that would decentralise the nation’s policing system

3. FOOTBALL AS A HEALING BALM: Nigeria is more divided today than at any other time in her history. But, for us, football is the tonic that heals old wounds. We need a truly super and brilliant outing by the Super Eagles at the Mundial to help reunite a divided nation
Ekweremadu in a goodwill message to the Super Eagles before its first match in the 2018 World Cup in Russia

4. I urged the constituents to apply their time to more useful venture in view of the strenuous nature of recall of a lawmaker in the country and I said the AG may not have advised them properly. I understand that every page of the advertorial costs about N700, 000 and I learnt five other papers carried it. We are looking at about N12 million of Kogi Government funds
Ekweremadu deploring advertorials by Kogi State Government that the upper chamber had no role in the recall process of Sen. Dino Melaye
QUOTE:

Ekweremadu has not only been wooed with carrots, but has faced serious battles, which many interpret as political bricks, thrown at him. The Senator alleged an attempt on his life in Abuja